Jim Petersen had built such a reputation as a high school basketball player in the late 1970s that a St. Paul reporter ventured all the way to St. Louis Park to write about him. It was worth the trip because the 6-foot-10 Petersen was an affable young man and his coach, Augie Schmidt, was a hoot.
Apparently, one question that went unasked that day was, "Was your dad a basketball player?,'' because it wasn't until talking with Petersen this week that I discovered his father Bob was 6-foot-11 (in 1950) and a tremendous basketball player.
Where did he play?
Jim Pete: "In high school, Minneapolis Vocational … and then Louisville.''
Me: "Your dad played for the Volts! They were generally at the bottom in city athletics.''
Jim Pete (smiling): "Not when my dad played for them.''
The McDonald's All-American Game was first held as an East vs. West contest for boys in 1977. Jim Petersen was Minnesota's first McDonald's All-American in 1980. His father Bob was a 1950 version of that, playing in the Chuck Taylor North-South all-star game that was held for a decade in Murray, Ky. Bob Petersen and Robbinsdale's Dan Dale were on a North team that defeated a South team led by legend-to-be Bob Pettit, 56-49.
"I wore his No. 44 jersey from that game all the time,'' Petersen said. "Mostly he worked as a truck driver, but Dad did play for the Washington Generals in games against the Harlem Globetrotters. That's how he met my mother, Florence — at a Globetrotters game here.''
The "here'' would be the Twin Cities, where Jim Petersen, now 61, has reached institutional status as the analyst on Timberwolves telecasts. He will begin his 26th season as a commentator when the Wolves open at Toronto on Wednesday night.
There was more complication before this could happen than at any time since 1998, when he started as Chad Hartman's analyst on Wolves radio broadcasts. Petersen had a high PSA reading in September, a biopsy showed prostate cancer and that surgery would be required.
"I was told originally that we had to wait three weeks after the biopsy for surgery,'' Petersen said. "That was going to put me into the season. The All-Star break was a possibility, but I wasn't sure about waiting that long. I decided to check with Mayo doctors.''
Slight smile, and Petersen said: "Minnesota is so lucky to be home to that medical wonder.''
It was Sept. 29 when he talked with the Mayo specialist. "We don't have to wait,'' the surgeon said. "We can do it October 4th. Or the 11th. Take your pick.''
Petersen thought five days was too quick. "I needed a little time to adjust to the idea of surgery, plus I wanted to play two or three more rounds of golf while the weather would be conducive,'' he said.
Jim Pete always has been the inquisitive type, which comes in handy for a TV analyst. And he remains absolutely astounded at the process used by the Mayo surgeon.
"It was done with the da Vinci surgical robot,'' he said. "Have you heard about this thing? They show a video where the robot peels the skin off a tiny grape perfectly.
"The surgeon is on his screen, guiding the robot — it is fantastic. The robot removes the prostate and leaves no nerve damage.''
It was Monday. Petersen had been in attendance for a second day of Wolves practice. How you feeling? "Touch of discomfort for a few days, but I can't wait to see this team open the season,'' Petersen said.
This assessment had come out without any prodding early in the conversation:
"I think this is the best situation we've ever had with the Timberwolves,'' Petersen said. "I'm talking about the combination at all three levels: front office, coaching and players, and the business operation.
"Tim Connelly is the real deal as president of basketball. This coach, Chris Finch, is exceptional – and with a strong staff. And this team, we had that run of excellent talent led by Kevin [Garnett] … I mean, he was the best player in the league for a time.
"For depth, though – I don't think we've had a team to match this.
"What they do need is what every team does to be a true contender – consistency. The league is deep right now, but when you're playing those few teams at the bottom … you can't be losing games to them at the rate we did last season.''
It was mentioned to Jim Pete that the Wolves had close to a rabid following over the second half of the 2022-23 schedule, even though they had fewer wins – 42 compared to 46 – than the previous season.
"The fans realized the team was playing without Karl [Anthony-Towns] for months,'' Petersen said. "They also appreciated the growth they were seeing with Ant [Anthony Edwards], Naz [Reid], Jaden [McDaniels],'' he said. "And once Michael Conley got in here, a true point guard, it was a huge difference.
"I'm excited. I hope we win. But I'm still going to try to be a straight shooter.''
The man called Jim Pete by all paused and then said this:
"You go full homer, try to sugarcoat everything, you're insulting the intelligence of these fans — and what they've been through, 50-, 60-loss seasons, years of terrible luck in the draft, 13 years without playoffs. And I still see many of those faces almost every night at Target Center.
"They keep coming back for one reason: They love basketball. They deserve to be rewarded. And I think they are getting some of that now.''